Magic & Gathering: A Review Of Prime World: Defenders
We’re all allowed to hate certain genres, and for me, that genre is real-time strategy games. They simply aren’t interesting to me. I often find them repetitive and lacking in any real feedback mechanism; games devolve into fits of rage, trial, and error, requiring multiple attempts to master missions, and success only rewards me by thrusting me into another alarmingly similar scenario. Repeat ad nauseum.
Prime World: Defenders, the new strategy game from Nival, falls victim to these problems, but makes significant progress in the category of “interest” by adding a deck-building component to the game. Collecting cards, combining them to upgrade their abilities, and finally using them in battle are welcomed additions to this genre game, and it’s a mechanic that works well enough to elevate the whole experience.
What Prime World: Defenders excels at is easing you into the world. There’s an excellently paced opening storyboard that leads right into the thick of the action. It’s traditional real-time strategy and tower defense gameplay: placing towers, guns, and blockades (along with the use of magic) to destroy the invading forces known as The Touched who are trying to steal Prime, the precious commodity that drives the economy of the world. The lavish visuals are also a key component, and it’s clear that every enemy and map has been crafted with the utmost care.
But Nival has thrown something imaginative into the mix by adding collectible cards. All of the abilities at your disposal in the game can be upgraded through deck-building mechanics, a la Magic: The Gathering or Ascension. The cards feature both battle components (like towers and slingshots) and magic elements, like Prime Bombs and Ice Storms, and combining them—through what the game calls “fusion” and “evolution”—yields stronger versions of the cards that are then equipped to use in battle.
You’ll earn cards simply through battle, but based on performance you’ll also collect coins and stars that you can then spend on unique booster cards which can further upgrade your deck. The main, story-driven battles then unlock on a map (with smaller battles appearing alongside them), and it’s here where you can put your newly upgraded powers to the test.
The combination of deck-building and real-time strategy feels so elegant and natural that it’s a wonder this marriage hasn’t occurred before; it’s much more engaging than simply paying an in-game currency to upgrade. It’s also deceptive how much time you can spend with just the card collecting aspect of the game, but unfortunately that’s probably due to the fact that it could be done better.
Fusing and evolving cards can sometimes be a hit-or-miss proposition. While the game gives a clear indication about the final outcome of the fusion/evolution in terms of raw stats, getting there feels like pure guesswork. For instance, there is a Light Magic card that uses light to show invisible enemies on the map, and there is an Ice Storm card that slows enemies with a shower of ice. You can combine these cards, and again, see the resulting stats before you commit to the decision, but what does that really do? Does the Light Magic now shoot shards of ice, or will an ice storm suddenly be…really…bright?!
Sure, in a sense it doesn’t matter, because you’re essentially just worried about efficacy, but it’s something you’d ordinarily expect in a game priding itself on its visuals.
Unfortunately, the card fusion system isn’t the only thing that will leave you feeling aimless. The flagship battles in Prime World: Defenders, where the story beats are developed and played out, introduce enemies that require new magic, mechanics, or methods to defeat. However, you won’t immediately be powerful enough to use these techniques to the degree of effectiveness. This means that the game essentially forces you to grind on the aforementioned smaller battles before tackling the flagship ones.
It’s in these smaller fights that you’ll spend most of your time. You’ll need to complete several of these fights—which contain no story elements and are very limited in scope—in order to gain enough coins, stars, and cards to sufficiently upgrade for the main battles. The worst part is that this is absolute trial and error, because exactly how powerful your deck needs to be before attempting these battles is obfuscated; there’s no choice but to make repeated attempts.
And with those two issues, Prime World: Defenders falls victim to the same problem that I feel many other real-time strategy games do. Some will deem it the “challenging” aspect of the game, but the lack of a proper feedback loop to appropriately convey what the player is doing wrong—or how to improve beyond just mindlessly grinding—can leave players feeling frustrated very easily.
While being forced to play a game with virtual blinders on can hinder the experience, I feel safe in saying that Prime World: Defenders has enough going for it that these detractions don’t completely annihilate it. The game is wonderful to look at, with excellent character designs and detailed environments. With the addition of the extraordinary and refreshing card collection, it’s more than just a pretty face, too. That deck-building is a clever and unique mechanic that, while it could have been slightly better implemented, is certainly a welcomed addition to the genre.
Pixels or Death gives Prime World: Defenders a 3.5 out of 5.